CBOMGS seminar: Delphic festivals, mythologies and genealogies

Arts building, Whitting Room
Arts and Law, Research
Thursday 6th February 2014 (17:15-18:30)
Download the date to your calendar (.ics file)

The Centre’s General Seminar normally meets in the Whitting Room (436), 4th floor, Arts Building on Thursdays at 5.15pm, unless otherwise stated and is open to all interested in the related concerns of the Centre for Byzantine, Ottoman and Modern Greek Studies.


The Delphic Festivals organised by Eva Palmer and Angelos Sikelianos in 1927 and 1930 were celebrated by ancient enthusiasts but met with skepticism among Marxist critics who viewed the Sikelianous’s vision as symptomatic of the decadent elitism of the bourgeoisie. Recently, Gonda van Steen has maintained that the social critique of the Festivals was in fact responding to a distinct fascist streak, confirmed by Sikelianos’s overt references to Aryanism. Whilst the parallels between the Festivals and fascist forms of open-air performance are arguably present, the effort to revive the Delphic Idea seems to be part of a more intricate cultural and ideological process in the inter-war period. The paper will propose a genealogical rethinking of the Delphic Festivals, uncovering their affinity with the imaginary discourses of origin within modernity. Both the universalist call as well as the appeal to an elect spiritual community underlying the Delphic endeavour can be understood as inherent to the logic of origin. The performances which took place at the site of Delphi sought to recover a lost unity and spirituality through the enactment of a primordial transhistorical antiquity: the staging of Aeschylus’s ‘archaic’ plays, the utilisation of dance and ritual elements and the continuity between ancient art and contemporary crafts, all affirmed a mythopoetic which could remedy the discontents of modern culture. In this respect, the elitist model reproached by the critics lies at the crucial turning point where cultural decadence transformed into a narrative of regeneration which fed into fascism.